Cauliflower cheese with Charles Dickens

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Charles Dickens isn’t an author I normally associate with writing about gardens. The grimy back streets around Covent Garden might come closest, but last week, recovering from a nearly all-night election watch, I visited the Charles Dickens Museum in his childhood home in Doughty Street…

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… and had a pick-me-up bowl of cauliflower cheese soup in the garden.

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And what a little treasure this city centre garden is…

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Hmmm. Just so this isn’t a post about ‘writer eats soup’, here is something I found about Charles Dickens and ferns. But mostly so I can revel in the word pteridomania. Poor Mary, not worthy of a fernery…

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If you click here, you can see a picture of Charles Dickens and Mary in the rose garden of his Kent house, Gad’s Hill.

But anyway, if you are in Doughty Street, or near, this is a hidden gem of a garden with delicious food and lovely staff. Thoroughly recommended. And what a privilege to sit there, as I did, and write in Charles Dickens’s garden, even if it is to be reminded that ‘spring is the time of year when it is summer in the sun and winter in the shade’…

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Grass Mounds, Taking Risks and Riots – Spa Fields, Exmouth Market

I’ve been to Exmouth Market several times, but never ventured down this uninviting passage to visit Spa Fields

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I’d thought it was a perfect place to take a plate of street food from the market, but then I read a little about its history.

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Turns out that its well-known for the Spa Fields riots of 1816, and later, between 1821 and 1824, as the base of a community led by a group of printers and based on the co-operative ideas of Robert Owen, the visionary founder of Scotland’s New Lanark.

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Ups and downs though, and after only several years, the community floundered. Perhaps because, apparently, ‘The community also set up a ‘monitor’ system whereby each monitor looked after one person and acted as his ‘confessor’.

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Before that though, in the 18th century, it was known for ‘the rude sports that were in vogue’ and thieves who knocked down passing pedestrians and ‘despoiled’ them of ‘hats, wigs, silver buckles, and money’.

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Luckily I was allowed to eat my lunch in peace.

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And when I visited, just round the corner, round three corners in fact, there’s an inspiring children’s playground – not a park though. And an adult-free zone to boot. It may not have ‘monitors and confessors’ but it does have some rules I loved!

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I say when I visited, because sadly I heard that the playground had a fire just after I’d been, and was seriously damaged. You can read about it here.

So I offer you this poem from Robert Louis Stevenson which reminds me so much of playing as a child, although we had nothing as exciting as this wooden structure which was destroyed by the fire. Heartbreaking.

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The Swing

How do you like to go up in a swing,

   Up in the air so blue?

 Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing

   Ever a child can do!

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 Up in the air and over the wall,

   Till I can see so wide,

 Rivers and trees and cattle and all

   Over the countryside–

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 Till I look down on the garden green,

   Down on the roof so brown–

 Up in the air I go flying again,

   Up in the air and down!

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And I invite you to write about being allowed to take a different view of the garden, as with these giant chairs. I’d have LOVED these as a child. In fact I’d love them now.  A real boost for young imaginations.

It seems that Islington Council are committed to repairing the playground. I hope the children can play again very soon. 

Chelsea Fringe – London Garden No 12

Five Minutes Peace: a garden to sit in, a poem to read, and a prompt to write to … No 12. (Find out more about what this is all about here.)

BONNINGTON SQUARE, VAUXHALL

What do you get if you design a garden by committee?

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Well, if you are lucky you will end up with something like Bonnington Square!

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This is one of London’s hidden gems – except it is rightly becoming rather famous. The garden sits in the site of WW2 bomb damage and although at one time it had a children’s playground half-heartedly placed there, it was only in the 1990s – when a builder put in an application to use it as storage – that a residents’ committee was formed to create today’s beautiful sanctuary.

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It really is a place where you can sit, write and read…

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helped with a coffee and cake from one of the pretty cafes around…

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.. unless you are lucky enough to come on the one night a year the industrial wheel turns and brings crystal clear champagne with every circle…

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I visited by day, but I want to go back at night when the trees and garden are lit up by strings of fairy light. Champagne in itself!

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The garden feels like a true work of love, and rather magical, so I’ve chosen this beautiful Chinese poem by Ping-Hsin for it.

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Love

To escape from thoughts of love,

I put on my fur cloak,

And ran out from the lamp lit silent house.

On a tiny footpath

The bright moon peeps;

And the withered twigs on the snow-clad earth

Across and across, everywhere scrawl “Love”.

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And I invite you to write about love in the garden today… with a glass of champagne in your hand if you feel like it!

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Garden enthusiasts will spot the homage Bonnington Square pays to nearby Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, which from the 17th to the 19th century was the premier ‘open garden’ and entertainment in London. Move over the Chelsea Flower Show!

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It’s still an attractive park now, and I was really pleased to see this horse chestnut tree all lit up! I’ve just been reading about the Tradescants, and this was one of the species John Senior brought back – and in fact it helped to make his fortune.

Amazing to think what it must have been like to see this tree in flower for the first time. A garden spectacle indeed.

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